Moving To China: The Essential Checklist

China is a hugely popular destination for EFL teachers. English teachers are in huge demand in China, in both public and private schools and across the student age range. We’ve produced a helpful guide on what to expect when teaching English in China.

To help you understand what it’s like to live in China and how to go about it, we’ve chatted to a number of experts. Joey Zhou is a Chinese expat living in Scotland. After working at the Chinese Consulate and Visa Centre, Joey now runs a Chinese visa business, helping others to navigate the process. Abigail Thomson and Joe Coroneo-Seaman are Chinese language graduates and British expats who have lived, worked and studied in China for many years.

4 Steps To Move To China:

  1. Get a job offer or study admission notice
  2. Legalise your documents
  3. Get your work permit (via your employer, if you are working)
  4. Obtain your Chinese visa


Getting A Chinese Visa

In the UK we have three Chinese visa centres from which to obtain your Chinese visa – Edinburgh, London and Manchester. There are two main Chinese visa options: the ‘Z Style’ for work and the ‘X Style’ for study. You can either get your visa from the visa centre directly or through an agent.

Going directly to the visa centre can be slightly cheaper, however the process can take a little longer. There is also the risk of having to pay a rejection fee, should you not be approved.

Direct Visa Centre Costs

  • ‘Z Style’ visa for work – £151 visa centre charge, up to 10 working days to process.
  • ‘X Style’ visa for study – £151 visa centre charge, up to 10 working days to process.  

Using a visa agent can give you the security of going through the process with someone who knows it extensively. i2Visa for instance carries out pre-checks on all of its applications to maximise their success rate. If an application is rejected, i2Visa doesn’t charge a rejection fee.

A visa agent, such as i2Visa, can also accelerate your application if you receive an offer of work or study at short notice. From next day processing to 5 day turnaround, a visa agent can ensure you receive your visa as quickly as possible and take the stress out of the visa process for you.

i2Visa Visa Agent Costs

  • ‘Z Style’ visa for work – £175 i2Visa charge, 5 working days to process.
  • ‘X Style’ visa for study – £175 i2Visa charge, 5 working days to process.

What You Need For Your Chinese Visa Application

  • Original passport (it should be valid for at least 6 months when you enter China)
  • 1 x passport style photo
  • Completed Chinese visa application form – like this
  • Signed and dated declaration form – like this
  • Work permit (for ‘Z style’ visa only)

Finding A Home

There are three main ways to find a home in China:

  • Student accommodation, if you are a student
  • Living with a host family through a homestay
  • Finding a private apartment or room to rent

Student accommodation is a good option for students, however it can be easy to get stuck in the ‘international expat bubble’ with other English speakers. Living with a host family is likely to give you the best immersion into authentic Chinese culture and the most opportunities to improve your Mandarin or Cantonese.

Finding a private apartment or room to rent can be a little more difficult if you don’t speak the language. However life for expats is much easier when you join ‘expat housing’ groups or forums on WeChat or Facebook. This is where most private listings are found. China’s major cities have their own websites for this purpose, many of which you can add on WeChat to receive more information – the Chengdu Expat is just one example.  


Moving Your Belongings

The beauty of a long haul move is the generous baggage allowance, so make the most of it! If you are planning on living in China for a few months, at least to begin with, consider only travelling with a couple of suitcases. If you want to take more with you, or don’t want to take it all on the plane, consider using an affordable shipping service like Send My Bag. 

Managing Your Money

Setting up a bank account in China is usually a straightforward process, all you need is your passport and proof of address. Most bank workers speak enough English to make setting up your bank account relatively easy. You don’t always need to deposit money into a new account straight away, giving you greater flexibility. Popular Chinese banks include HSBC, Bank Of China and ICBC. One thing to remember is that there is no easy way to transfer money between your UK and Chinese bank accounts and you will likely have to pay for this service.

The official currency of the People’s Republic of China is the Chinese Yuan Renminibi (RMB). In general, the cost of living in China is much less than the UK, which means that your money can go further. However the major cities, such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, can be just as expensive as living in London. Joe has created this helpful guide to budgeting for life in China on the InternChina blog.

Accessing Healthcare

There is no NHS equivalent in China. In public hospitals, emergency medicine can have long waits and uses a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system. This means that you often have to pay upfront to see a doctor and then before each part of your treatment, e.g. x-rays, prescriptions etc. Most UK expats will choose to see a private doctor in an international hospital. The best way to find good, private, international doctors in your area is to ask your WeChat expat community.


Communicating In China

The most widely spoken language in China and Taiwan is Mandarin. In Hong Kong, its surrounding areas and in the south they speak Cantonese, with English as a second language.

Many UK expats move to China with no Mandarin or Cantonese at all, however learning the basic building blocks before you go can be hugely beneficial. Fortunately at TEFL, we know that immersion is the best way to learn a new language.

If you are part of an international student community it can be easy to only use English, however be sure to make as many Chinese friends as possible and try speaking to them in their native language. English is widely spoken in the major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, but less so in rural areas. Further information on living, working, studying and teaching in China is available from Gov UK.

About The Authors

Joey Zhou is the founder of i2Visa – a Chinese visa agency which specialises in urgent Chinese visas and document legalisation. Joey spent two years working at the Chinese Visa Centre and the Chinese Consulate in Edinburgh before deciding to help others navigate the process by setting up his own business. His extensive knowledge makes the Chinese visa process simple.  

Abigail Thomson is a Interpreting and Translation (with French and Chinese) masters student at Heriot Watt University. She spent her third year studying in Hangzhou before moving onto Fujian Province for a further 6 month Chinese language scholarship. After graduating Abi worked for 5 months in Chengdu as a Hotel Management Trainee in Guest Relations at Fraser Suites.

Joe Coroneo-Seaman is a Chinese and French graduate from The University of Edinburgh. He spent his third year studying in Hangzhou before moving to Taiwan for a 6 month Chinese language scholarship. After graduating Joe worked for InternChina for 5 months in Chengdu, sharing his experience which other expats via the InternChina blog.

  • Claire Louise Hillsmith

    Hi guys – no mention of the medical requirements pre-departure for China, which seems to be part of the new visa regulations. Can you shed any light on that? Thank you!! Having a real nightmare trying to organise it all…